• Aug 12 2019
  • |
  • Category: CAFC Updates

The Toro Company sought inter partes review of claims of U.S. Patent No. 8,011,458 relating to steering and driving system for zero turn radius (“ZTR”) vehicles, such as lawn mowers  The Board instituted review and, in its final written decision, held the challenged claims obvious under 35 U.S.C. § 103. Critical to its decision, the Board determined that the claim term “mechanical control assembly . . . configured to” perform certain functions is not a means-plus-function term subject to 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6. However, the CAFC finds that the Board erred by conflating the inquiry of a) whether the claim limitation connotes “sufficiently definite structure” to a person of ordinary skill in the art with b) whether the specification identifies the structure that performs the claimed function(s) and thus “corresponds to” the claimed means. The CAFC also concludes that given the lack of any clear and undisputed statement during prosecution foreclosing application of § 112, ¶ 6, the Board erred in giving dispositive weight to MTD’s equivocal statements in the prosecution history that the phrase “mechanical control assembly configured to” perform certain functions must be given weight because it connotes structure and thus is not merely an intended use. Under the appropriate legal framework, the CAFC concludes that the term “mechanical control assembly” is in fact a means-plus-function term governed by § 112, ¶ 6 and therefore vacates the Board’s obviousness conclusion, which was predicated on its incorrect claim construction, and remands for further proceedings.

View Decision